Race, Katrina and the Media

Because many whites believe a fact only when someone who resembles them informs them of it, black opinion-makers are wasting their time when they talk about the racist features of the New Orleans’ calamity. It’s better to leave that job to Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, Francis Fox Piven, appearing on KPFA radio and, remarkably, Don Imus on MSNBC. As a result of an industry of heavily financed think tanks and a media intimidated by conservatives — institutions that have conspired to destroy the credibility of black leaders — many Americans are convinced that American society is color-blind.

Many progressives agree, maintaining that issues involving gays, lesbians, transgender persons and white middle-class women are more pressing than those affecting blacks. I’m against discrimination against anyone, but I’ve noticed that most of those being evacuated from New Orleans — people who couldn’t get out — were black, both gay and straight.

Yet, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson raised the issue of the racist treatment of black residents, he got a Swift Boat-type retaliation from Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show Monday. (Of course, we learned from the documentary “Outfoxed” that sliming Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton are part of the Fox playbook.)

As someone who is acquainted with the inflammatory media coverage of civil disturbances involving blacks since Reconstruction, I was prepared for the inflammatory, sensational and racist coverage accorded the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, much of it lining up with that of the online comments about the flood and its aftermath by ex-convict David Duke, a leader of the Eurocentric movement in the United States. White residents of Louisiana were so fond of this man that they almost elected him governor.

Also, I’m not surprised that there was very little difference between the former Ku Klux Klan leader’s comments and commentary earlier this week by the New York Times’ elite columnists Nicholas D. Kristof and John Tierney. Conservatives might view the Times as liberal, but, in my opinion, the Times leads the nation’s media when it comes to scapegoating blacks for the country’s social problems.

Kristof endorsed a deal suggested by the clueless Rich Lowry of the National Review in which the left would devote ” … greater attention to out-of-wedlock births … in exchange for the right’s support for more urban spending.” Missing from this proposal is the fact that out-of-wedlock births among black teenagers have plummeted more than that of any ethnic group, while those among white women are on the rise, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Kristof also praised Times writer Jason DeParle, who has made a good living identifying welfare as an exclusively black problem. Meanwhile, some members of the Vietnamese community are in a crisis because their five years of receiving checks are about to expire. (When he appeared on C-SPAN, I asked DeParle why the Times always accompanied welfare stories with a black face. He squirmed as callers from around the country referred to other ethnic groups with large numbers on the welfare rolls, including immigrants from Russia.)

Tierney praised Rudy Giuliani, a man whose poll numbers were about 40 percent before the Sept. 11 attacks, for reducing New York City crime, when the reduction began under the David Dinkins administration. Without facts, Tierney lamented the failure of the Great Society programs. Not only did those programs enlarge a black middle class, but Medicaid and Medicare benefited whites the most, just as whites are the principal beneficiaries of the social programs begun during the Roosevelt administration. Because American whites might be one of the most subsidized groups in world history, one wonders why they’re not the object of cornball lectures about self-reliance from right-wing and neo-con commentators and their persons-of-color auxiliary. On Thursday, neocon New York Times columnist David Brooks repeated some of the stereotypes listed by his colleagues and added some of his own. For instance, he believes that among the American population, only white middle-class men are monogamous.

About the members of the Kennedy administration who were considered “the best and the brightest,” Sam Rayburn, longtime speaker of the House, said “they may be just as intelligent as you say. But I’d feel a helluva lot better if just one of them had ever run for sheriff.”

I feel the same way about those who write tough-love op-eds about the black inner city from Cambridge, Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, Georgetown and beach houses in Santa Monica and Monterey. I suspect that some of them are composing columns and articles maintaining that Katrina was not an act of God, but the result of blacks’ personal behavior. I wish that some of these smug individuals would serve as block captain in an inner-city neighborhood for a year, as I have since 1989.

They would discover that the official indifference and apathy and neglect expressed toward the black residents in New Orleans happen on a smaller scale to black neighborhoods throughout the nation. That nation is not color-blind. It’s colored blind.

ISHMAEL REED is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His accalimed novels, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and the Last Days of Louisiana Red, both take place in New Orleans. He is also the editor of the online zine Konch.

This essay originally appeared in the SF Chronicle.








We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Ishmael Reed’s latest play is “The Conductor.”